Unless you’ve been living on another planet, you know Facebook is the biggest communications medium on Earth. Right now, it’s estimated there are more than 700 million active Facebook users worldwide and roughly 50% of them log onto Facebook every day. The average user has 130 Facebook “friends,” is connected to 80 community pages, and places 90 pieces of content each month. Overall, more than 30 billion content elements are shared among the network’s users each month.

One intriguing aspect about Facebook is it’s both a global and local medium. A multinational corporation can use Facebook to communicate with hundreds of thousands of “fans” (though that terminology is no longer used), while a local business can use it to stay in touch with several hundred.

For optical, Facebook is a perfect medium. In fact, it’s very much a 21st century extension of optical’s most time-honored marketing tool, the patient referral. Facebook allows a local optical practice to connect on an ongoing basis with its patient base in a variety of ways—through news and practice updates, new product recommendations, special timely promotions, video and photo posts, and much more. There are now marketing companies providing practices with the tools to use Facebook for promotional couponing and scheduling appointments.

And unlike conventional advertising (a.k.a., Yellow Pages), this is a participatory medium. Hence a practice can engage patients through surveys and polls, contests, information sharing, and feedback.

But lest one think this whole Facebook thing is a cakewalk, be advised: There’s more to it than meets the eye.

For one thing, there’s the issue of content. Anybody can set up a Facebook page in a matter of minutes, but then what do you do with it? Unlike personal Facebook pages, business pages require more thought, more strategy, and a consistent commitment of time on the part of the administrator. Most importantly, the content—unlike that Yellow Pages ad—cannot simply be self-serving. To use a shopworn word, it must be engaging—meaning patients really have to want to receive it.

And how do you get people to gravitate to your page? What’s the incentive for a patient to “like” a practice’s page? With so much on Facebook to distract, why bother with Dr. Jones? Then once they’re on your page, how do you manage what they say and do there? How do you keep disgruntled patients from “poisoning the well” so to speak? (The short answer to this question is you can’t.)

To address these issues and many other associated with social media and its use in business, VCPN–along with the other publications in the First Vision Media Group family–will be featuring a series of ongoing columns called “The Social Media Advisor.” Watch for them in the coming months.

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